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Designer Ozwald Boateng Tells “A Man’s Story”

Designer Ozwald Boateng Tells “A Man’s Story” (photo)

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Directed by Varon Bonicos (who also created the TV series “House of Boateng”), the documentary “A Man’s Story” spans an epic dozen years in the life of its subject, designer and larger than life fashion world figure Ozwald Boateng. The youngest and first black tailor to open a shop on London’s Savile Row, Boateng starts the film in 1998 at a low point, having lost his business in the midst of a tough divorce. “A Man’s Story” treks through the next decade-plus at a breakneck pace, charting Boateng’s stint at Givenchy, his marriage, the birth of his two children, his second divorce, his celebrity-studded charity event in Ghana, fashion shows in Milan, in Paris, in London, trips to China, Russia, Los Angeles, Doha, runways, red carpets, offices, storefronts, parties, planes. It’s a glittering blur throughout which Boateng remains tireless, both in his work and as a careful curator of his personal brand. I caught up with filmmaker and his subject after the film’s world premiere here at the fittingly upscale Abu Dhabi Film Festival — both were clad, of course, in impeccable suits.

When this started, it was intended to be a three to five month project — how did it end up going on for so much longer?

Ozwald Boateng: There’s no easy answer to that, because it doesn’t really make any sense. No one would plan a film for 12 years. Varon has maybe 400 hours of usable material. To put that into an hour and a half is quite something, and when you watch it you don’t realize you’re actually carrying that amount of weight. You feel the emotional experience, but you slip through the time, it’s very cleverly put together in that way.

The film is about belief, about love, about getting it right and getting it wrong, getting it right, getting it wrong. If you look at anyone’s life over that period, it looks like that. And there are a lot of famous people in the film, but you don’t feel their fame, you feel them as people. That’s one of the fundamental points, communicating that wherever you are in your life, we’re all still trying to get to the same place emotionally. And I’ve been able to expose myself in a way that under normal circumstances is not done. The first time I watched the film, I couldn’t speak for a week, week and a half about it.

10222010_mansstory4.jpgVaron Bonicos: For me, it’s like when you have a newsprint picture. You look at it really close and can only see one dot, and you start to pull out and you see lots and lots of dots, and by the time you get to the end, the edge, you go “Oh my god, that’s the picture!”

How did you know you were done?

VB: Ozwald was always very confident in everything, but he got to the point in his life where he was absolutely set. If you ultimately love something you have to be able to let it go — that’s one of the things that I learned.

Ozwald, you’ve made ten short films yourself, have they all been connected to collections?

OB: The first catwalk show I did in Paris in 1994, my invite was a short film. Those days it was on VHS cassettes. It seemed like a really interesting tool to use — film is immediate in terms of delivering an emotion. When you show the clothes afterward, it’s a good set-up for that. That became a part of my creative life.

When Varon started filming, I already had an understanding of film, and that’s kind of why I agreed to make the piece… which was supposed to last three to six months. Why he was able to film so long — he has a gift for disappearing. He’s been in places with me where it’s impossible to film, but he’s been able to film. I’m a creative — I challenge myself a lot, so I understand the gift of being able to do that.

Varon, did you show Ozwald any rough cuts along the way?

VB: No, the interview at the end, where he talks about the dream, he saw it just before. If you rewind your life 12 years — I think he was quite blown away, because you forget everything.

Ozwald, can you tell me about the work you’ve done in film costume design?

OB: Usually I dress characters — more often than not, the lead. I’d like to dress a whole movie, like Armani did for “The Untouchables.”

10222010_mansstory5.jpgDoes that happen often?

OB: No, that’s rare. You almost take the role of a wardrobe designer for the film. In terms of how it works, wardrobe will come to me and have a character in mind, and I’ll create a series of looks. In the case of “Miami Vice,” where I was dressing Jamie Foxx, I went and saw Michael Mann. I showed him the Chinese film [shot during the course of the documentary], he liked that. He works very similar to me — he creates a series of mood boards, he’s very visual in his process.

He’s also very detailed. Jamie was wearing one of my pieces, and Michael Mann talked about moving the button down about a centimeter. I thought I was the only one who was crazy enough to think in those terms. I said, well, look, I’ve spent the last 17 years figuring [these things] out, trust me, it’s in the right place. He still tried to go on about it. Jamie said, I don’t think that’s a good idea! Then we had a big laugh about it. Creating for film is really understanding the character.

Are there any films you’ve found particularly inspiring in your work?

OB: I did some clothes for a James Bond film, but it was for the bad guy. I want to dress James Bond. In 1995, I did a whole James Bond fashion show in Paris. It was quite a number, actually. I did it at the circus, and had models dropping from the ceiling. On that collection, I won Designer of the Year in France. It really struck a chord. That show was inspired by the whole James Bond, the man who could be everything. I’ve always been on this journey of discovering what makes men tick. The whole concept of making a suit, being a tailor is understanding the needs of the man you’re making the suit for.

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Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:

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The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.

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They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!

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Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.

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Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.